Voices in Focus: More Anger at Proposed Redistricting Lines

The conversation on controversial proposed redistricting lines continued across New York City and its suburbs over the last few weeks, with hearings and protests by residents. Here is another sampling of coverage from the community and ethnic press:

* The Norwood News reported on a hearing in the Bronx last week where nearly 50 people spoke out, many condemning the maps as gerrymandered. Norwood and Bedford Park residents complained that the proposed districts for both Senate and Assembly split the adjacent neighborhoods, diluting their political clout.

“Norwood and Bedford Park are separated and broken apart in this plan,” said Don Bluestone, executive director at the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center in Norwood. “This is a poor community. Part of the reason it is poor, and has gotten poorer, is because it cannot speak with one voice.”

“To break up what little political influence we have — you’re going to devastate this community,” Bluestone added.

* The Queens Chronicle heard complaints from two different Asian communities at a Queens hearing where more than 125 people signed up to speak and 100 rallied against the proposed maps outside.

Members of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, often referred to as LATFOR, have said they changed district lines in Queens to create the first-ever Asian-American majority district in the Senate. But Asian groups said they weren’t happy with the new lines.

“The current proposal, groundbreaking as it is, divides the neighborhood of Flushing,” said James Hong, of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, a citywide organization.

Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney at the Democracy Program for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said while his organization is pleased with a number of the proposed Asian majority Assembly districts, it is not happy with Senate District 16.

“This proposed district could be improved by eliminating the northern appendage that captures Bay Terrace,” Vattamala said. “This portion has a population of roughly 16,000 people. We recommend that an equal number of people be added from Flushing.”

Bay Terrace Community Alliance President Warren Schreiber agreed, saying his neighborhood more strongly identifies with Bayside than Flushing and should be in Senate District 11, not 16.

“To my friends in the Asian community, let’s work together,” Schreiber said. “They want to use the tactic of divide and conquer — let’s not let that happen.”

Further south in Queens, another Asian community had complaints:

A large number of South Asian organizations said LATFOR cracked their community lines.

“You had the audacity to chop us up,” Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Corporation, said of the Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park area, which is proposed to be divided among five Assembly districts. “You’re disenfranchising a very large community.”

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) agreed with Mahadeo.

“The map would thus divide Richmond Hill, cracking the South Asian community,” said Weprin, who would lose Fresh Meadows, most of Bellerose and parts of Bayside and Glen Oaks while picking up portions of Richmond Hill and Kew Gardens.

* Desi Talk also reported on reaction from Richmond Hill’s South Asian and Caribbean community:

Guyanese- Americans also joined the protest Feb. 7, with numerous activists and leaders from the community demanding that the panel rectify the proposed legislative district before submitting it for approval to the New York Legislature.

Gurpal Singh, executive director and co-founder of SEVA, told Desi Talk not all of the redistricting was bad. In fact, in some ways it was better for South Asians than the lines drawn 10 years ago.

“But it still results in gerrymandering South Asians,” he said. “We are asking to keep the Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, and South Ozone Park together in one district, and they are not,” in the redistricting.

The Gotham Gazette told of a confrontation over the fact that white men represent many areas where non-whites make up the majority:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southeast Queens Community Coalition for Civil Rights also protested against what they called disproportionate white representation of minority communities. Garth Marshant, president of the Southeast Queens coalition, said that it’s wrong that two thirds of Queens is represented by white men while Queens County is only 39 percent white, according to 2010 Census figures.

Assemblyman John “Jack” McEneny, the co-chair of LATFOR, countered that the task force does not look at the race of elected officials and that it’s his understanding that many legislators capably represent constituents of a different race than they are. “That’s pretty racist” to suggest otherwise, he said.

* Reflecting on the senate seat formerly held by Carl Kruger, who resigned in December after pleading guilty to influence peddling, the Home Reporter heard one theory on why LATFOR drew such unpopular district lines, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to veto:

In fact, [the area’s former State Senator, Democrat Vincent] Gentile – who lost his Senate seat to Golden after the district was reshaped by Senate Republicans to Golden’s advantage – said he believes the lines released by the Senate redistricting committee are deliberately extreme, “So the governor can keep his promise and veto them. Then, they can come up with a second set of lines that the governor can sign.”

* Home Reporter also took a look at the Asian-majority district proposed for Brooklyn:

That would result in a district that is 51 percent Asian and 33 percent non-Hispanic white – adding up to the borough’s first majority Asian legislative district — and would give the increasingly active and vocal Asian-American community its best chance yet at becoming an influential part of the political process in Brooklyn and New York.

“We are very excited for the assembly proposal [because] it would grant us a district and a chance for a Chinese legislator in Brooklyn,” said Warren Chan, executive director of the Asian Community United Society. “We hope that assembly district will be one that benefits the Chinese community.”

Not everyone was so happy about the proposed change, however:

Lucretia Regina-Potter, the female Republican District Leader of the 49th Assembly District, criticized the move in a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, claiming that “politicians of both parties… are disenfranchising thousands of people, mostly of the same [non-Asian] background who have lived in the same community for generations.” Potter also contended that the redrawn district, “denies these people of their constitutional right to live in an area of their choice.”

* DNAinfo reported on a group that hopes to offer input into the new district lines, and create the nation’s first Dominican-majority district in the neighborhoods of upper Manhattan that were once an African-American stronghold, represented for more than 30 years by Rep. Charlie Rangel:

One proposal being pushed by the Dominican American National Roundtable would divide Upper Manhattan, where Rangel has long reigned, into multiple districts to create a new majority Latino district with deep Dominican roots, its president, Dr. María Teresa Feliciano said.

The district would stretch across Washington Heights, through the eastern part of Inwood and then into sections of the northwest Bronx, including Kingsbridge and Morris Park, and over into Jackson Heights and Corona in Queens, where the Latino population has spiked 35 percent over the past ten years.

While the lines would create a district straddling three separate boroughs, proponents insist the area, which would be 66 percent Latino (an overwhelming 85 percent of whom would be Dominican), 11 percent black and 14 percent white, would unite communities with similar interests and needs, including shared language and culture.

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